Before he was recognized as a saint, a man named Patrick helped convert Ireland from a pagan land to a Christian realm, the legend goes.
He's St. Patrick, of course, the apostle venerated on March 17.
St. Patrick's piety was so strong, he once spent 40 days and 40 nights praying on a hilltop to rid the entire Emerald Isle of snakes.
That all took place around the year 400, when most historians believe St. Patrick lived.
Today, that mountaintop is known as Croagh Patrick, and a statue bearing the saint's likeness sits at the top of the 2,500-foot climb.
"It was from this peak that he boldly rang his bell, chasing the serpents into the sea," writes Pat O'Connor, a tour guide at Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door in Edmonds.
He's also co-author with Steves of Rick Steves' Ireland travel guides. "Ireland never had any snakes, of course, but the symbolic lesson is that he rid Ireland of pagan beliefs."
Weather prevents many pilgrims from paying homage atop the reek (the Irish word for peak) on March 17, St. Patrick's feast day. Instead, a procession is held in late July when as many as 30,000 people trek to a tiny church where Mass is celebrated all day long, O'Connor said.
It's a steep climb, but that hasn't prevented visitors from making the trip. On a clear day, the views are tremendous, the tour guide said.
Ireland is one of the most popular European destinations for Americans.
It's a beautiful country with rich history dating back millennia.
No trip to the Emerald Isle is complete without a visit to the Dingle Peninsula, O'Connor said.
Here, visitors find the iconic Irish image of green hills, rock walls and breaking surf.
This also is where archaeologists discovered Ogham stones, some of the earliest examples of Irish writing.
Early Irish monks came to this remote area to get away from earthly distractions and the temptations of civilization. It's here where they first began to write down the Irish language.
If Dingle is where visitors find solitude and quiet, Dublin is on the opposite end of the spectrum. The city is the thriving heart of Irish civilization.
Bustling Dublin has fine museums, interesting rebel history and lots of pubs.
Dublin also is Ireland's literary capital, where James Joyce, William Butler Yeats and Oscar Wilde once honed their craft. If you're at all interested in these famed writers, "You'll find Dublin to be heaven," O'Connor said.
Another famous Dublin attraction is the Guinness brewery.
"It is well worth a visit," O'Connor said. "It's a holy pilgrimage for some people."
There are many fine castles to visit in Ireland, but perhaps the most famous is Blarney Castle.
The Blarney stone, eight stories high on the underside of a rampart, is said to bring luck to all who kiss it.
Some say the stone comes from the Holyland. Others believe the stone is a remnant of the Stone of Scone, the coronation stone used by Scottish and then British monarchs.
Whatever the Blarney stone origins, getting the chance to lean backward and kiss it involves lots of lines and crowds, O'Connor said.
"It is fun," he said. But "Rick and I feel like it's a bit overloved."
Try your luck elsewhere, O'Connor said. There are much better Irish castles to explore.
Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Book a trip
Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door offers 14-day guided tours of Ireland starting at $3,895 plus airfare.
Pat O'Connor is scheduled to talk about Ireland trips during the Rick Steves European Travel Festival on April 14 in Edmonds. More information and registration is at www.ricksteves.com or 425-608-4217.
Summer airfare from Seattle to Dublin costs about $1,350 per person, based on a recent search on Kayak.com, a website for travelers.
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